Englander‘ s comic novel about Jewish mourning rituals sounds like an odd combination. And yet, Englander provokes laughs in his story of Larry, who outsources the saying of the Kaddish–the mourning prayer said for a full year after the death of a loved one–to an online website. Larry is the black sheep of his family, and the painful argument between Larry and his sister at their father’s funeral exposes the ways that grief for the dead can manifest as anger at the living.
Small towns can provide their residents with a sense of community, of belonging, but it’s also true that small towns can enforce conformity as community’s price. In The Den, readers are introduced to two sets of sisters, separated by 150 years. Henrietta and Jane and Elspeth and Claire each are confronted by the oppressive demands of their town. And, for each pair of sisters, a high price is exacted when in both cases, one of the sisters disappears. In order to find out what became of her sibling, the remaining sister will face dangers that will keep readers turning the pages in search of answers.
Once More We Saw Stars
This memoir begins in almost unimaginable pain, with the death of Stacy and Jayson Greene’s toddler daughter. But this remarkable memoir demonstrates how the bond between the bereaved mother and father, combined with their hope, showed them that despite their grief, there was a future for them. In luminous prose, Jayson Greene details their journey. In telling their story, the Greenes offer comfort to those who have experienced loss, and inspiration to readers in need of an affirmation that the human heart is capable of healing from the most profound wounds.
Anna Quindlen was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for her columns that examined the intersection of her political and personal lives. In Nanaville, Quindlen writes with wit and tenderness about her newest role: that of grandmother. No longer in the role of primary caregiver who makes the rules, she describes the experiences of learning how to provide support to her children in their new roles as parents. Her description of falling in love with her grand-babies sings on the page.
J. California Cooper
This first novel of J. California Cooper was greeted with great reviews for its depiction of the family lives of those held in slavery prior to the Civil War. The novel is narrated by Cora, the ghost of a woman who committed suicide because she couldn’t bear being enslaved. Cora attests to “the grief and misery that is soul and core of the life of a slave.” She watches as the members of her family are emancipated as a consequence of the Civil War, and follows them as they depart from the south to make new lives in distant locales. Cooper has written an intimate view of African-American lives and the familial bonds that hold them together.
Cassandra at the Wedding
Cassandra and Judith are identical twins. Judith prepares to wed a young, personable doctor from Connecticut at the family ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Cassandra has pursued life as a graduate student, and she too is heading out to the ranch for her sister’s upcoming nuptials. But Cassandra isn’t intending to be a good guest. She wants to disrupt the wedding. To understand why she feels motivated to do so, Baker shines a light on Cassandra’s relationship with her twin, with her hard-drinking father, and with her deceased mother. The wedding promises to be an affair punctuated by fireworks.
Edward St. Aubyn
Shakespeare’s King Lear is the tragic story of a father and his daughters whose relationships with one another deteriorate as the father sets out to determine which of his children loves him most. In Dunbar, St. Aubyn transforms the story of Lear into that of Henry Dunbar, the head of a huge media empire. His three daughters–Megan, Abby, and Florence–try to find ways to communicate with their tyrant father. Dunbar has bullied his way through many past crises, but he won’t be able to escape illness. And as St. Aubyn reveals, the daughters he has raised have been influenced by Dunbar in shocking ways. This is Lear told for a modern audience featuring characters we read about in newspapers and tabloids. Shakespeare understood that despite technological advances, in many ways, human nature has not changed at all.
My Name Is Lucy Barton
Laura Linney is set to star on Broadway in the stage adaptation of Strout’s 2016 novel. Lucy Barton has been in the hospital for three weeks, suffering from complications of a simple appendectomy. She misses her small daughters and her husband. On this night, her mother, from whom she has been long estranged, shows up to keep Lucy company in her hospital room. Lucy is overjoyed to be back in her mother’s presence, but the stories her mother tells to Lucy show that mother and daughter have still not learned how to communicate. This exploration of the adult mother-daughter bond is a poignant reminder that even when we reach adulthood, we still want our mother’s unconditional love and care.
Family of Origin
The book that will light up many readers’ summer, Family of Origin is a raucous tale of siblings Nolan and Elsa, who return to their father’s island home and laboratory after his death. On the island, they encounter their father’s colleagues, who call themselves the Reversalists. The Reversalists are on the lookout for a rare bird, whose inability to survive is taken by these scientists as proof that evolution has started running backward and that doom is on the horizon. Stuck on the island with the Reversalists, Nolan and Elsa find themselves caught up in chaos and in the midst of a debate about whether humanity will survive the changes it has inflicted on our planet. A novel of ideas but also about the ways that families each have their own weird stories and secrets, this novel will keep readers up late on summer nights.
Albert Camus told Liberaki that he felt a deep complicity with this sunny novel about three sisters growing up in Greece. The story is told over the course of three summers, and features a cast of characters in addition to Maria, Katerina, and Infanta. Among these are the mysterious Polish grandmother; Laura Parigori, who makes life difficult for everyone around her; and the fascinating Captain Andreas. The Greek countryside becomes a character of its own, as Katerina writes in her journal about her sisters and their forays onto the sun-baked lands that surround their home. A coming-of-age novel that captures all of the joys and sadnesses of first loves and first heartbreaks.
Cagnati was awarded one France’s prestigious book prizes for this novel, Le jour de congé. It tells the story of fourteen-year old Galla, whose dream is to return to the lands that were promised to her family. Along the way to her realizing her dream, readers watch as she negotiates the minefield that is high school, complete with “mean girls” who don’t understand the girl they see as wild and uncivilized. Galla eventually runs away, and sets in motion a series of events that will keep readers riveted.
Two brothers are tied to one another, and out in the forest or both in bed with whooping cough, their devotion just continues to strengthen. Their imaginations create worlds of play where the two adventurers battle a variety of unusual opponents. But as childhood draws to a close, their desires to make art give way to motorcycles and young women. This graphic memoir features Baudoin’s beautiful artwork coupled with evocative prose that tells the story of two brothers’ coming of age.
Mary Shelley gave the world Frankenstein as her first novel. In her second novel, Shelley gives voice to Mathilda, a young woman who wants to explain to a friend of hers why she has lived a solitary life. In so doing, she takes readers first to the story of her parents, the relationship that produced her. Eventually, while telling the story of her mother and her father, she reveals a secret that will lead directly to the death of one of her parents. Shelley’s own father, William Godwin, objected to the manuscript so vehemently that he refused to submit it for publication. It wasn’t published until 1959.
Let Me Be Like Water
This is a novel about family, but not the biological family into which one is born. Holly has moved to Brighton to escape painful memories of a personal loss back in London. She’s alone in Brighton until the day she meets Frank, someone who understands what it is she’s running away from. He invites her to join his group of friends who, together, create a new family where each of them supports, and is supported by, the other family members. A novel that testifies to the power of the families we choose.
On a recent Saturday, I went looking through my TBR pile (okay. Piles. Several piles). I was in search of a shorter book because I had a desperate need to read an entire book from beginning to the last page instead of the shambolic state of my current books. At the moment, I am in the midst of reading five different books. (No wonder I love bookmarks.) Thus I have one book by my bed that I read before going to sleep, and other books scattered around the house. I read a book based on whichever one I left closest to me.
I wanted an opportunity to immerse myself in a book on that day, the kind of deep reading where I am intent on finding out what happens next, or trying to understand a complex character, or solving the puzzle hidden in a book’s pages. The kind of book that, when I’ve finished it, it takes a while to surface and rejoin the world. And I wanted to be able to do all of that without adding to my Not-Yet-Finished (NYF) collection.
The short novels and memoirs in this selection are all 300 pages or fewer. And all of them center around the first social network we all joined: family. Whether you want to laugh while you read, or cry, or get mad, or find inspiration, there’s something for everyone here. George Bernard Shaw wrote in his first novel, Immaturity, that “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” In the works below, skeletons waltz, floss, and do the tango.